April 24, 2009 in City

Two prescriptions filled for assisted suicide

Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
 

SEATTLE – Two prescriptions have been filled for life-ending drugs under Washington’s new assisted suicide law, state health officials said Thursday.

Health Department spokesman Tim Church said he could not provide any details about the people considering suicide, but the department has received two forms from pharmacists saying they have dispensed the drugs that people say they want to use to end their lives.

The department has not received any forms certifying that a person has committed suicide under the state law that took effect in early March.

“Someone can certainly receive a prescription and not use it. We have received no forms saying anyone has died as a result of this law,” Church said.

Besides the two forms filed by pharmacists, the state has also received one form from an individual declaring his or her request for medication to “end my life in a humane and dignified manner.”

To comply with the law, a number of forms are required for each patient but doctors have 30 days to file the forms after the prescription is filled.

Church said the Health Department will report annually on the ages, genders and illnesses of the people who filed the forms with the state, but the individual forms people turn in are exempt from state open records laws.

Other people have asked their doctors about assisted suicide and may have filled out a form, but because of the reporting rules it’s not clear how many have taken a step toward assisted suicide, said Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices of Washington, the largest aid-in-dying advocacy group in the state.

“This is a snapshot. It doesn’t give an accurate picture of how many people have started the process,” Miller said.

The assisted suicide law, approved in last November’s election with a nearly 60 percent “yes” vote, is based on Oregon’s measure which passed in 1997. About 401 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives.

Under the Washington law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least 18, declared competent and be a resident of the state.

Two doctors would have to certify that the patient has a terminal condition and six months or less to live. The patient must also make two oral requests, 15 days apart, and make a written request that is witnessed by two people.

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